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JULY 14, 1997

Local News

Mystery miles on WWD truck added to audit

by Andrew Walgamott

   Evidence of misuse of Woodinville Water District equipment and funds by a commissioner continues to build as a state audit nears completion. Truck usage logs for district vehicle #25 show nearly 1,000 miles allegedly put on it by Commissioner Walter Backstrom one week last summer. District officials would like to know where Backstrom went with the vehicle. Backstrom says he is being unfairly targeted by the board of commissioners.
   "This is an example of a double standard," Backstrom said late last week. "There are some issues that have nothing to do with the car or with the mileage."

   District documents show that vehicle #25, a 1990 Dodge Dakota used by district employees, was driven 1,144 miles between logged fillups from July 18, 1996 to August 30, 1996. According to General Manager Bob Bandarra, sewer utility worker Cliff Sherbon drove an estimated 194 miles in the truck on routine maintenance calls between July 29 and August 16, but was on vacation the rest of the month, leaving 950 miles unaccounted. According to minutes from an April 15, 1997 meeting, Backstrom borrowed the truck to attend a Washington Association of Sewer and Water Districts meeting in north Seattle the evening of August 19.
   Between August 19 and August 30, when the truck was next fueled, the vehicle was driven approximately 950 miles.

   At the July 1 water district meeting, Board president Gail Harrell asked if the vehicle was capable of getting 93 miles per gallon as the logs suggest. Bandarra said there was no history of the vehicle getting that sort of gas mileage. Harrell asked Backstrom to comment on the use and mileage of the vehicle. Backstrom would not comment.
   Last week, Backstrom said he'd had the truck for only three or four days and could not recall his exact movements in the vehicle as it had happened a year ago. District officials concede that it is possible other employees may have used the truck, but records show that Backstrom had the vehicle for a week.

   In May, district commissioners asked for a state audit of their April and May meeting minutes after allegations of misuse of a district credit card to make personal calls, a $371.03 overdue balance on a cellular phone and use of the truck by Backstrom surfaced. During May, a $300 cash advance Backstrom received went 15 days overdue.
   Since then, Backstrom has paid off the district debts. Results of the state audit are expected by August.

   Backstrom has retained an attorney. He is up for re-election to the board this fall.